About PS

These pages are by me, Peter Smith. Before I retired, I used to teach logic and related things in the University of Cambridge.

And indeed, it was my greatest good fortune to have secure, decently paid, university posts for forty years in leisurely times, with a very great deal of freedom to follow my interests wherever they led. Like many of my generation, I am quite sure I didn’t at the time really appreciate just how lucky I and my contemporaries were. The more student-orientated areas of this site, such as the Study Guide section, including the freely downloadable Beginning Mathematical Logic, constitute my small but heartfelt effort to give something back by way of thanks. I’ve also been able to make some previously published books open access.

Before returning to Cambridge in 1998, I was in the Philosophy Department at the University of Sheffield for ten years, and before that was at  UCW Aberystwyth (as it then was called, and where there was once a small but rather good department, closed as a result of the ‘Thatcher cuts’). In ancient history, I was at Trinity for eight years, where I took Part II Maths at the end of my second year, and then in my third year got a distinction in Part III Maths (it’s really been downhill all the way since). In my fourth year, I took Part II Moral Sciences  for light relief. Then, instead of going back to DAMPT, I stayed on trying to become a philosopher, for not-very-good reasons, and thereby foolishly missed out on some of the glory days of elementary particle physics

My amateurish philosophical curiosity used to range pretty widely.  I wrote (with my then Aber colleague O.R. Jones) a once quite widely used textbook, The Philosophy of Mind: An Introduction (CUP, 1986).  Thirty-five years on, it looks very much a product of its time, though I guess I still believe modified versions of quite a lot of it! And for twelve years until the end of 1999, I was editor of the philosophy journal Analysis, which I enjoyed and which suited my butterfly mind (I could really never get the hang of this specializing malarky). It was quite ludicrously time-consuming because I’m so bad at delegating, though I like to think the journal flourished.

I wrote a philosophy of science book Explaining Chaos (CUP, 1998), which has some pretty maths, if you like that kind of thing. The book’s main point was to deflate some over-excited philosophical views about ‘chaos theory’. (I’d of course put a few things just a bit differently now; there are one or two technical glitches, and I was perhaps unnecessarily pessimistic at the end about the question whether you could ‘define’ chaos in a way neatly enough covering the usual paradigms. But the basic deflationary story still seems right to me. By permission of Cambridge University Press, you can download the whole book here.)

Lately, however, I find myself back where I started in philosophy, most interested in core logic and the foundations of mathematics, and increasingly sceptical about the value of much of the rest. I co-edited Vagueness: A Reader with Rosanna Keefe (MIT 1997) which collects many of the classic articles with a long introduction — but the more I thought about that, the less I understood (either about vagueness or about the rules of the game for giving a theory of vagueness). Then, because the world so obviously needed yet another elementary logic book, I wrote up my first-year Cambridge lectures as An Introduction to Formal Logic (originally published by CUP in 2003).  The significantly revised second edition (also originally published by CUP) is now available as a free PDF download or an inexpensive Amazon reprint.

I have also written  An Introduction to Gödel’s Theorems (CUP 2007, second edition 2013). It is somewhat misleadingly also in an ‘Introduction to Philosophy’ series. But it actually has quite a high ratio of maths to philosophical commentary, though it still aims to be accessible to advanced undergraduates and beginning graduate students. There are also many pages relevant to this book here on this website. Many sections, especially earlier in the book, were substantially rewritten for the second edition. The main text is about 25 pages longer; but the aim is to significantly improve reader-friendliness rather than to add much new material.  The second edition of this book is also now available as a free PDF download or an inexpensive Amazon reprint.

As is the way with these things, that Gödel book grew and grew, far past the length of the lecture notes it was originally based on. So I have since put together a much shorter version — a kind of introduction to the Introduction — encouragingly called Gödel Without (Too Many) Tears. Once more this is available as a free PDF download or an inexpensive Amazon paperback: there’s also a classier hardback. Both Gödel books should be accessible to anyone who has done a first formal logic course.

I have various logical/mathematical projects to keep me from getting bored in retirement, which will I suppose make up for all those misspent years when I somehow got diverted into philosophy when it seems that at heart I’m really just another Trinity mathmo.

Among other things, I tell myself that I’m doing my best to get to understand a little  category theory (though I seem to keep getting distracting from that project …). A first outcome of this project is another short-ish book, Category Theory I which presupposes rather less prior mathematics than some other introductory books. There’s a rough draft of some of Category Theory II too.

I blog sporadically, and you can find some of the more interesting(?) older posts here.

Contact peter_smith AT me DOT com

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